Singing The Blues (Lamentations)

Most of us remember where we were and what we're doing on 9/11, 2001. The images and emotions are seared into our memory. This would be much more so for the Jews living in 586 BC, the year Babylon destroyed Jerusalem. The book of Jeremiah closes with a graphic description of siege, famine, terror, plunder, killings, cruelty and public executions. But far more traumatic was the glaring reality that:
  • Jerusalem was destroyed (52:13b-14).
  • The throne of David was empty. The last king of Judah was captured, blinded and improsoned for the rest of his life (52:9-11).
  • The temple of God was in ruins (52:13a).
  • The people of God were deported into exile in Babylon (52:15).
The greatest sufferings in life are not material losses or physical pain but the emotional and spiritual trauma of abandonment and despair. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1).

Singing the blues. Lamentations (Latin Vulgate translation: lamenta) consists of five laments or lamentations. A lament is a sad, agony-filled cry of mourning, usually in poetic form. There are numerous laments in Psalms with cries to God in pain and suffering. These laments in Psalms almost always end with a strong affirmation that God will indeed provide deliverance or with a vow of praise to God because of his great deliverance. Lamentations, by contrast, has statements of hope, but these are somewhat tentative and faint. In the lament psalms the affirmations of faith in God's deliverance are central, while in Lamentations the cry of pain and suffering is central. In our culture today it may be akin to "funeral dirge" or the American blues music. Thus, Lamentations is about singing the blues.

Central message and purpose. Lamentations is a cry of agony and suffering. But this cry is also a confession that this terrible suffering is very much deserved, a result of repeated disobedience, defiance of God and rejection of his word. It is a graphically horrific first-person testimony to the real consequences of sin.
  1. No Comfort for the Grieving Widow Jerusalem. Rebellion and sin against God result in sorrow, tragedy and pain.
  2. The Anger of God. Even as the anger of God brings judgment, he still listens for the cry of repentance.
  3. The Faithfulness of God in the Midst of Judgment. Because of God's faithful loyal love, there is always hope.
  4. Sin and its Tragic Consequences for Children. The sin of adults can lead to terrible and tragic consequences for children.
  5. Woe to Us, for We Have Sinned. God is always on his throne; thus we should confess our sins and trust him for deliverance.


God Guarantees Salvation Amid Punishment (Jeremiah 46-52)

"Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, Israel. I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid. 28 Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant, for I am with you," declares the Lord"Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only in due measure; I will not let you go entirely unpunished" (Jer 46:27-28).
  • Ch. 46 (Judgment and Salvation): God in his sovereignty will bring judgment on prideful nations, but he will provide salvation for the remnant that truly believes.
  • Ch. 47-49 (Judgment on the Nations): God is at work throughout the world, judging and restoring.
  • Ch. 50-51 (The End of Babylon and the Future of Israel): The end of Babylon is contrasted with the everlasting restoration of God's people.
  • Ch. 52 (The End of Jerusalem, Yet Hope for the Future): Even in the context of imminent and well-deserved judgment, God offers hope.
Jeremiah, as the prophet to the nations (Jer 1:5, 10), prophesies judgment on some of Judah's neighbors. Thus, Jeremiah 46-51 is appropriately referred to as the Judgment on the Nations. The nations are: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazor, Elam and Babylon. Starting with Egypt provides continuity with Jeremiah 43-44. Ending with Babylon is appropriate because Babylon is the most powerful nation in the region, the one that brings judgment on the other nations, including Judah, and the nation whose future most affects that of the remnant of Israel.

Oracles against other nations are a common feature in the prophetic books (Isaiah 13-23; Amos 1-2; Ezekiel 25-32). Jeremiah's oracles, in general, make the point that the coming of Babylon is God's judgment on all the nations -- but that in the end Babylon too will be judged, and Judah saved from its oppression (Jer 25:15-19).


The Most Difficult Instrument to Play is Second Fiddle

Leonard Bernstein, the late conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, was once asked to name the most difficult instrument to play. Without hesitation, he replied: "The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that's a problem; and if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony."

"Humility is a strange thing: the moment you think you have it, is just the moment you have lost it. Only the proud will speak of their humility: the humble confess to having a problem with pride. Until a man is nothing, God can make nothing of him." Anon.

Am I thrilled, zealous and full of enthusiasm to play second fiddle to my Lord (and any others that he chooses)?

In the KJV of the Bible, the word 'leader' is mentioned only six times. The word 'servant' is mentioned more than 900 times. Serving seems to be thought of more highly by Jesus.

In his brilliant book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells the strangest story about a guy called Christopher Langan – a genius with a staggering IQ of 195 (Einstein's was 150). In school, Langan could ace any foreign language exam just by skimming the textbook two to three minutes before the test. But Langan never made the most of his amazing ability and ended up working on a horse farm in rural Missouri. According to Gladwell, Langan never had a second fiddler – a community to help him capitalise on his gifts. Gladwell summarises his story in one sentence. "Langan had to make his way alone, and no one – not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires and not even geniuses – ever makes it alone."


How Foolish to Reject God's Gracious Second Chance (Jeremiah 40-45)

Jeremiah 40-44 is a postscript of sorts, narrating the events that take place in Judah in the aftermath of the Babylonian invasion. The point, however, is to explain how those who remained in Judah rejected God's offer of blessing and restoration, and thus removed themselves and their descendants as candidates to participate in the great restoration promised in Jeremiah 30-33, where God gives his people a new heart, one heart and one way. Ch. 45 is the "deliverance oracle" concerning Baruch, which relates to a lament by Baruch about the burden of his task (Jer 45:3), since he shared firsthand in the grief and frustration of Jeremiah. It contains both a gentle rebuke and a great encouragement.

Jeremiah 40-45: Rejecting God's Gracious Second Chance; A Remnant Flees to Egypt
  • 40-43 (events in Judah): It is foolish to reject God and his offer of deliverance; it is even more foolish to do so twice.
    • 40-41: The murder of Gedaliah, the governor appointed by Nebuchadnezzar.
    • 42: Do not go to Egypt.
    • 43: To Egypt.
  • 44-45 (events in Egypt): When God offers someone a second chance, it is foolish and irrational to reject it.
    • 44: A final appear and the refusal to listen.
    • 55: A word for Baruch


Jeremiah Chapter 1-52 Outline

  • 1: The Call of Jeremiah.
  • 2-29: Judgment (Prediction)
  • 30-33: Salvation (Comfort, Consolation)
  • 34-52: Judgment (Actual)